4th Circuit upholds released time program of South Carolina school district

Howard Friedman, Relgion Clause

In Moss v. Spartanburg County School District Seven, (4th Cir., June 28, 2012), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Spartanburg’s released time program that permits high school students to receive two academic credits for off-campus religious instruction offered by a private Bible school. Grades are funneled through an accredited private Christian school that reviews and monitors the program, and the grades are then transferred to the student’s public school transcript. The program is authorized by the state’s Released Time Credit Act. (See prior posting.) Approximately 20 out of the school’s 1500 students take the religion course each year. Finding that only some of the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the program, the court went on to conclude that under Supreme Court and 4th Circuit precedent, the Spartanburg program does not violate the Establishment Clause:

Here, the School District’s released time policy takes place off campus and expressly prohibits any use of public staff or funds for its execution…. The fact that a public school accepts credits for released time courses does not alter the analysis under any one of Lemon’s three prongs in view of the neutral administrative manner adopted by the School District for accepting those credits. The School District employed a model in which primary responsibility for evaluating released time courses lay with accredited private schools, not the public schools.

[Thanks to  Stephen Ruckman and Derek Gaubatz for the lead.]